ER, Season One (Order it from Amazon!)

 This was the year that television changed. Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg took a cast of virtual unknowns and created a juggernaut of a drama that still has managed to survive a couple of almost complete cast turnovers. When it arrived, it was more the approach than the content that actually caught people’s attention. Medical shows have been a part of the television frontier since long before this, what with Marcus Welby, Quincy, and the gangs of M*A*S*H* and St. Elsewhere treading the turf over the years.

The mid 90’s had a different feel and different expectations from a show. The hard-hitting cop shows and their attempts to make television more gritty helped make this show find new footholds. Imitators popped up as soon as this show kicked the Nielsen’s in the dick. Overall, this is a solid first effort but it’s not really all that invigorating as it once was. I remember actually keeping my Thursday nights open to watch this show. I found a lot of the stuff, especially the annoying Kathleen Wilhoite needy sister subplot to grate on me after some time.

Ladies lined up from around the block to get a glimpse of The Peacemaker.

There’s a lot of tension in the show, and whenever there’s calm you know a helicopter’s going to arrive any second with a couple of stretchers full of mangled motorists or a guy who fell into his lawnmower. The thing is, like I feel that Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s weakest moments are the fight sequences and most expendable ones, I feel that the medical sequences of E.R. are a necessary evil. Here in the first season you can see them trying to find a balance and trying to attain an almost intoxicating sense of realism and pressure. While the show’s 10+ year run goes against this, I feel that they never really feel at home with the mix. The characters are exceptional for the most part, even the rather one-dimensional (this season at least) Dr. Benson (Eriq LaSalle).

A very good show gets a very good start, but consider me one of the group of folks who ultimately found Chicago Hope to be the better show. I also really felt the length of this show by watching the DVD. It really started to drag on a little after the halfway point.

Story Arcs of Record: It all began here. Relationships are established. Juliana Margulies’ Nurse Hathaway character deals with the repercussions of her attempted suicide and her on again/off again relationship with Dr. Ross (George Clooney). Young Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) begins his life in the emergency room and has to deal with a mentor with a God complex (Eriq LaSalle). Bodies are battered and treated at an astronomical rate. Rich Rossovich shows up, which is never bad. Sherry Stringfield’s Dr. Lewis gets almost married while Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) struggles with his home life. Hospital soap opera histrionics are the order of the day.

"I can’t believe what a prankster you are… switching that old man’s oxygen supply with Lee Majors…"

Acting: It’s funny seeing George Clooney here now after he improved his craft tenfold in films like Three Kings, Out of Sight, and O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?. He’s quite hard to watch here, and it’s not just his oft-publicized head head bobbings. He just seems like a shadow of his current self and I found his work with the children quite good but overall it’s not all that wonderful a performance. Surprisingly, he was the breakout star despite this. After spending the early part of his career in teen flicks, Anthony Edwards really stepped up game here and provided a nice center of gravity for the show. Stringfield was also terrific, Margulies as well. Eriq LaSalle had a showy role and I think he took it too far, not showing as much shading as the part demanded. The supporting cast is top rate.

Craftsmanship: The thing central to E.R. is speed. The camera rarely rests, jumping from scene to scene, person to person, and plot to plot with a breathless pace. The pace is both electric and also exhausting. After a few episodes in a row (especially watching them in these marathon sessions I do). Honestly, the breakneck pace of the show and the formulaic delivery the show created/adopted gets a bit old after a while. The freshness fades, the emotional stuff doesn’t register as soundly, and everything feels a little manipulative. Still, this show made the mold for the most part and the filmmakers and technicians do a phenomenal job each episode. Great music, too.

Entertainment Value: There’s brilliance in this show, no doubt. The acting is mostly phenomenal, as is the writing and mixture of medicinal gobbedlygook and user-friendly jargon. The show hits hard and throttles its viewer into entertainment at all costs, though sometimes entertainment is supposed to take the form of tears or gross-outs and it feels a little syrupy. Still, there’s a reason this is a phenomenon and it came out the gate better than most shows.

"Enjoy it kiddo. Sure, life’s great right now. Whores, blow, unlimited men in Joust, and fancy cars. Just wait, sucker. Radio Shack’s gonna came calling for you too."

Special Features: This is a really healthy DVD package. The involvement of series creator Michael Crichton is key, and his fingerprints are pretty evident on this set. He provides a solid commentary track that’s not as egocentric as I feared it would be. There’s a chunk of featurettes and deleted scenes and stuff. Fans of the show will be super thrilled, as this is one of the better sets available based on special features. Here’s the tally:

"Personal Notes" from series creator Michael Crichton
New, exclusive documentary on the making-of the pilot
New, exclusive documentary on the making-of the first season
"The First Year Intern Handbook,"
Two commentary tracks
Two featurettes
Key production crew and director commentaries
Outtakes and unreleased scenes
Hidden bonus materials

Overall: 7.5 out of 10

Buffy, Season Five (Order it from Amazon!)

 I became a Buffy fan through the back door. Not literally of course, I like Joss Whedon but not that way. As each season has become available, I’ve ingested the whole thing in two days or less because I really think this show is all about momentum and every year has had me wondering what the fuss was about and then reversing my opinion at about the midway point. I think it takes a while to get into the whole formula of Buffy. The dialogue is unique, but the characters do all tend to sound the same. Some folks call it "Whedonspeak" I believe. It’s certainly true and while there’s no doubting how great the humor is and how some of the really sharp genre approaches/references are, it’s definitely an acquired taste.

Kaine thought that little Billy Slithertits had come alone. That was when he realized the trap had been sprung as Tim Conway approached from behind in ninja garb.

This season features the best production values thus far and while none of the episodes grabbed me as tightly as some from seasons 3 and 4, there are some standouts. I still think the show feels way too compelled to pepper the episodes with kung-fu fight sequences because it feels it has to. There’s only so much you can do with the blonde vs. the undead dynamic in fight sequences and it became tired three years ago. The meat of this show is its characters. In season five, some characters got the shaft (Xander, for one) while others got the opportunity to shine (Buffy’s mother, Spike). New arrival Dawn is a thorn in Buffy’s side, but the performance by Michelle Trachtenberg kept me from finding the character more than a plot device. I really thought she was solid. My main gripes with the season are how it takes a few episodes to gather its heat and how crappy the main villain, Glory, is. She’s not sexy, she’s not a good actress, and when your main villain is a GOD they really need to be something special.

This is a show defined by its "special episodes", whether they be the near silent Hush episode from he previous year, the musical episode, and stuff like that, the only real signature episode is the emotional and wisely distanced The Body. It’s a great episode but not exactly a "Killer App" to sell newbies on the show. Oh, and the Dracula episode stunk. Dracula? Come on, Joss!

"Is Gary Gygax in? We believe he owes us some royalties."

Still, it’s a great show and this is probably the 2nd or 3rd best season thus far.

Story Arcs of Record: The death of a loved one. The emergence of Buffy’s sister, Dawn. The emergence of "Big Bad" glory. Spike’s infatuation with Buffy. Riley’s issues with his relationship with Buffy. The acquisition of a magic store for Giles, which becomes the new base of operations for the "Scooby Gang".

Acting: Sarah Michelle Gellar delivered the best acting of her career during this season. Anthony Stewart Head gets to finally show some grit. Kristine Sutherland gets to really showcase some mature acting and characterizations, something not too common in the show. As usual, Alyson Hannigan and Nicholas Brendan do the best they can in their roles, though I feel that the character of Xander was rendered useless this season. The whole lesbian subplot is fine, but I really think that Amber Benson’s acting style is too lethargic to worth within the context of the show. The surprise is how fun and playful Emma Caulfield is as Anya. She’s always a delight. Mark Blucas as Riley never sat well with me in season four, though his last few appearances here are solid. As a whole, it’s the cast that makes the show work, while James Marsters steals every scene he’s in.

Craftsmanship: This is a well-made show, particularly in the realm of its special effects and make-up. There’s a nice diversity to the creature designs, sometimes being scary and other appropriately silly (like Abraham Benrubi’s hammer wielding demon). The fight scenes got a boost in choreography here, though there’s still an abundance of stunt double spotting to be had. It’s not feature film quality, but certainly not a pushover.

This fall, the Sarah Michelle Gellar and Colm Meaney stunt-alikes return in… WHEN PALADINS ATTACK!

Entertainment Value: This show is a blast, whether achieving its reaction through laughter, coolness, chills, or pop culture infused mayhem. There’s a darkness at its core, but for the most part this is one of the most consistently playful, fun, and entertaining shows ever made.

Special Features: Once again, we get a nice complement of features from a Buffy boxed set, and I found this collection to be exceptionally engrossing due to the nature of the season’s major personal story arc. There’s a lot going on this season, lots of little strings being pulled and the special features do a good job of showing the madness/genius at work. Great stuff, if a little compromised by some lesser moments during the season. Here’s the tally:

4 Commentary tracks
"Buffy Abroad" featurette
"Demonology: A Slayer’s Guide" featurette
"Casting Buffy" featurette
"Action Heroes! The Stunts of Buffy" featurette
Series outtakes
"The Story of Season 5" featurette
"Natural Causes" featurette
"Spotlight on Dawn" featurette
Still gallery
Interactive video game trailer
DVD-ROM: Buffy Demon Guide

Overall: 8.1 out of 10

Firefly, The Complete Series (Order it from Amazon!)

 Before I go into detail, let me first proclaim the hotness of Morena Baccarin to all within earshot. She’s the main reason to watch Firefly. Not Joss Whedon. Not Nathan Fillion. Not even the one-two punch (and the reason I bough this DVD) of Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk. Morena is that perfect blend of cuteness and sexuality so rare these days. Natalie Wood had it. Elizabeth Taylor had it. Buffy‘s Robia La Morte has it. Morena has it.

This show is Joss Whedon’s space western that attempted to combine his mixture of humor and ensemble building and something new and fresh. It failed. This first and only season showcases why. To me the show seems a bit disjointed and cold. For all the attempts at breaking the mold that work, several do not. None of the characters aside from Baldwin’s Jayne seem to be having any fun and the lack of alien creatures keeps one of the most fun aspects of science fiction television (unlimited beastie potential) from happening.

"So when exactly did you climb out of the ground at Easter Island and carry that monstrous head over to my general vicinity?"

Focusing on the starship Serenity and her crew of renegades on the run from the overlords known as "The Alliance", the show features the motley crew of characters getting through their business of salvaging and smuggling while hitting different planets and revisiting familiar western traditions like the saloon brawl, high noon duel, and the bounty hunt. There are moments of creativity to be sure, but so much of it seems like the victim of not enough planning and polishing.

Story Arcs of Record: The premise of the whole show, the ongoing saga of ship doctor and his weird sister River, the love/hate relationship of leading character Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and the lovely whore played by Baccarin, the mysterious religious figure book, and how it’s going to all make sense.

Acting: Nathan Fillion’s got decent comic timing and is a likable sort but hardly leading man material for a show like this. It’s a western for God’s sake, a plain looking guy with 80’s hair isn’t enough. Ron Glass is borderline unwatchable as Book, not serving as the show’s "Yoda" but instead just showing how the ponytail look isn’t a timeless classic for an older guy. Tudyk, so wonderful in A Knight’s Tale, is given nothing to do here. Adam Baldwin is great at gruff characters with no real morals and gets to have a lot of fun here while actress Jewel Staite is sometimes cute and fun and others just irritating. As for the guest stars, Gregg Henry delivers some solid work while folks like Mark Sheppard do little but annoy. Unlike Whedon’s more successful gothic shows, this show cannot live off of its cast.

Even Hawaiian Zorro cannot detect the stealth approach of Mysterious Ken.

Craftsmanship: Firefly‘s well made for the most part, though nothing screams of quality of anything better than any of the genre shows out there. There are some nice bit of usage of actual science amidst the fiction, but a space show without lasers seems a bit odd. The thing I hate the most is how they use a science fiction sound effect and add it to normal stuff (doors, shotguns, billiard balls) to make it sound futuristic. It doesn’t work. Also, the music and theme song ain’t the best ever.

Entertainment Value: The show’s decent, I guess. If Joss Whedon hadn’t hit the ball out of the park with Buffy and Angel (I’m a big fan of Angel in particular), maybe this wouldn’t have seen so damn slight. But, he did and as a result this show feels like a plate of stale cookies after a night of bingeing on really good food. It’s entertaining, but not really.

"Don’t move or I’ll appear in Next of Kin!"

Special Features: Considering the show got treated like a rat in the snake house, this is a nice bit of special features. There’s a nostalgic commentary, some nice documentaries, and a rather painful Whedon performance. My favorite part is actually the packaging. It’s done in the same fashion as the great Homicide sets are. One disc per thin case, all covered in that sturdy, milky plastic. I dig it. Here’s the tally:

Deleted scenes
Alan Tudyk’s audition
Gag reel
Joss sings the Firefly theme
Joss tours the set
Easter egg: Adam Baldwin sings "Hero of Canton"

Overall: 6.5 out of 10

The Shield, Season Two (Order it from Amazon!)

 I was so excited about this DVD release that I forgot it was coming until three days before it actually came out. When I saw the first season I was so jazzed to see where the story went that I spent a few months aching to see it. Then, life moved on and the long gestation this show takes (it’s no The Sopranos, but it ain’t quick) allowed it to ebb to the back of my mind. Suffice it to say that I watched this sucker in one chunk once the disc came out and I was thrilled to know that none of what made it so compelling to me the first time around has been lost in its sophomore season. The show centers on a group of Los Angeles cops both corrupt and squeaky clean (but not for long) and how they use and misuse their authority. Stretching the very limitations of what you can get away with on television, the show is what Training Day would be if stretched out to a series.

"You’re surprised? When I discovered that my scalp is controlled by the Earth’s crust I nearly pissed myself and my wife!"

Season two takes everything to the next level. The trust is wavering between the main cast members, everything seems on the verge of collapse and the twisty story of Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) weaves ever tighter. The first thing that struck me was how seamlessly this dovetailed into the debut season. So far, the show has felt like one cohesive narrative. The success hasn’t led to spiffier production values (the were fine to start with), bigger guest stars, or the overuse of particular aspects that people clung to from the first season. This is HARD. Edgy. Vicious. Raw. As a result, I’d have to say that it’s right up there with Six Feet Under and The Sopranos as the best drama shows available.

The performances are amazing. Truly amazing. The direction is tight and very much a mixture of film and the fly on the wall feel of documentaries. The subject matter ranges from topical to timeless to weird (a person spraying people with pesticide?) but it all fits together in a wonderfully decadent mixture. Everything about Shawn Ryan’s show is top notch.

Story Arcs of Record: A Strike Team attack on a "money train". The ambitions of their captain to become mayor. The scaling back of the staff at the station. The dissolving marriage of Vic Mackey. The ongoing battle with brilliant criminal mastermind Armadillo. The decision of the cast’s gay character to go straight. The growing understanding that the Strike Team is corrupt.

It was then that Carla realized that resembling Jennifer Jason Leigh wasn’t enough to escape the clutches of the dreaded Confused Thomas F. Wilson Clone.

Acting: Michael Chiklis is a tightly wound ball of atomic energy and this is the role that will forever define his legacy. He is simply perfect in the role of a scheming, law breaking cop whose heart is in the right place despite his brain’s best efforts to send him into the abyss. It’s an amazing bit of acting, one that never would have worked unless it was completely immersed into by someone unique. Bald, stocky, and short, Chiklis is everything a show like this needs at its epicenter. This season I really came into the realization that supporting actor Walt Goggins is the other person who keeps this show as unpredictable and visceral as it is. He may never find another big role but he is just as good as Chiklis as the hotheaded 2nd in command of the Strike Team. CCH Pounder really gets some meaty stuff here, as does Jay Carnes as her often annoying partner. If it wasn’t for his weirdly expressive face, I think Carnes would be a primo character actor for film. Everyone above and below the line here is phenomenal, though. It’s also nice to see familiar film faces like Mark (Aliens, The Shawshank Redemption) Rolston, Melanie (Heavenly Creatures, Sweet Home Alabama) Lynskey, and John (Stargate, Jurassic Park III) Diehl filling the margins and extra credit goes to Danny Pino for his terrific work as the villainous drug dealer giving the cops fits through half the season.

Craftsmanship: The show is shot on 16mm to help give it the grainy, handheld look without succumbing to the trappings of digital video. As a result, it’s not the most pristine or panoramic hour of dramatic television. Instead, it’s gritty with a purpose and it works wonders for the show. Every episode fits together with the ones that precede and follow despite the presence of a handful of different directors (including Peter Horton of Thirtysomething and Children of the Corn infamy). It’s wonderfully tight and no show does a better job of using its opening credits and title card to better effect that this one.

Entertainment Value: It’s not an easy show to watch. There’s a ton of violence, as many utterances of "shit", "goddamn", and "asshole" you’ll ever hear on a cop show, slight nudity, and loads of uncomfortable situations interspersed through the rapes, drug use, killing, and sidewalk vomiting each show holds the potential to display. It’s not a laugh riot for sure, but it is entertaining. The whole house of cards always seems on the brink of implosion and the acting and constant intensity keeps everything filled with flavor.

In the near post-apocalyptic future, all knives will be replaced with a photograph of Paulette Maths.

Special Features: Not a bad little assemblage of special features, all told. Since the show isn’t as sprawling as some, there’s only four discs to contend with and the last one only has one episode. The commentaries are solid and the documentaries are longer than you’d expect. I especially dug the one about the last day of shooting because it showcases the camaraderie and looseness on the set, something that surprised me for such a powerful show. This is one of the better and more respectful sets available. Here’s the tally:

4 Commentary tracks
38 deleted scenes, with an introduction by Shawn Ryan
The Editing Room: "Connie Gets Shot" with commentary
Season 3 teaser
DVD-ROM features

Overall: 9.2 out of 10

Wiseguy, Part One (Order it from Amazon!)

 There was a time when Ken Wahl was a hot property and the Stephen J. Cannell style of television was the best around. Wiseguy centered on the character of Vincent Terranova, a member of the fictional law enforcement agency known as OCB sent deep undercover to infiltrate the mob. This first arc centers on building the show’s S.O.P. and the story of Vinnie’s relationship with mobster Sonny Steelgrave (the late Ray Sharkey, sporting one mother of a hairpiece). In the 80’s this served as the toughest show around. It had an attitude and it blended the action style of the time with the perpetual Hollywood infatuation with organized crime. At times it’s quite successful at generating a sense of realism and at others it just feels like a piece of kitsch we don’t need.

Yes, this is the show that caused countless Hollywood execs to shriek "God Dammit, get me Eddie Zammit!".

For one, the idea of having the hero report into a wheelchair techie is fine for a comic book but silly for a cop show. Also, having his brother be a priest and his past be so readily accessible strains credibility. Yeah, I know… I just reviewed a show about a teenage who creams vampires but give me some slack. Also, for a guy who just served three years in a prison (who even describes using a pillow to stop the bleeding from anal rape in one midseason episode), Terranova seems awfully pretty and centered despite his growing infatuation with mob life. Me? I’d spend the first half of the season shrieking "Aw God, my bleeding raped ass! Help Me!". Donnie Brasco this ain’t. It’s more like the A-Team with a bouffant.

It’s cheesy, though not as cheesy as the ego massaging Stephen J. Cannell opening graphic of the creator ripping a piece of magical paper from his typewriter. When it’s not, there’s some gold to be found. Ray Sharkey does a really solid job with the limited material offered him. Ken Wahl’s often a convincing lead and action hero, and for the time there’s some merit in the way the show is conceived. The bottom line is that this show isn’t hurt as much by its own efforts but by the cosmically better stuff in a similar vein we’ve been privy to ever since. This is best enjoyed as a time capsule bit of entertainment though I am anxious to get the next boxed set devoted to the Kevin Spacey villain that helped launched a great acting career.

"That’s right sucker, I’m bigger than this show. I have the next big movie franchise just waiting for me to quit. Just remember this moment when you’re in the packed audience of The Taking of Beverly Hills and remember that you’re the guy who let Ken Wahl slip away!"

Story Arcs of Record: The absorption of Vinnie Terranova into the mob. Vinnie’s fragile relationship with his sick mother. The OCB’s tenuous relationship with it’s agent. The Steelgrave family’s battle with the rest of the mob.

Acting: Ray Sharkey’s extremely solid. Note: This was filmed before the actors death from A.I.D.S. Ken Wahl’s usually solid though due to some overacting and an accent that could best be described as ‘Hoodlum for Dummies’. Jonathan Banks is excellent as Terranova’s OCB mentor and Yvette Hayden delivers one of the least convincing performances ever as Vinnie’s love interest, Gina. She has the acting chops of a plate of tacos.

Craftsmanship: The show made made during the 80’s at a time where style was a little overdone. Subtlety wasn’t in the vernacular and there was a lot of growing pains to be dealt with between the stiff 70’s style and the glossier approach that became the norm in the late 80’s. As a result, a lot of these shows are dated in a way that isn’t easy to put aside.

Entertainment Value: It’s a fun show, especially if you were alive when it was a sensation. There’s a lot of fun stuff to enjoy here, especially seeing how Vinnie’s going to get out of a tough scrape in every episode, how the relationship between he and Sonny (definitely the strongest aspect of the show) will strain or blossom, or what fun mob cliché will be visited. It’s a great bit of reminiscence material.

When the stress got to be too much, Tawny would often go to the only place she could really be alone… her crapper.

Special Features: Ken Wahl speaks! Otherwise, these pickin’s are slim. Also, the packaging does have a kind of amateur feel to it despite the chromium cover. Here’s the tally:

2 Commentary tracks
Gag footage

Overall: 6.0 out of 10

Crime Story, Season One (Order it from Amazon!)

 Michael Mann’s a master of all he surveys. Before Heat, he was "The guy that made Manhunter and Miami Vice". Crime Story is his other big television project and it probably still reigns as one of his greatest achievements. Dennis Farina has been playing cops all his life, first on the streets for real and then for Michael Mann. This is his signature and career making role. Based on Mann’s technical advisor for Thief, the show takes place in the early 60’s and focuses on the war between Chicago’s Major Crimes Unit and the mob. Because it takes place in the 60’s, there’s none of the horrible cheesiness that dates most 80’s cop shows. It’s period all the way and Dennis Farina and Anthony Denison make for a terrific pair of enemies fueling this first season.

Dennis had the cold eyes of a killer, the hot jacket of a sherpa, and the Luke-warm innards of a tauntaun.

There is a virtual who’s who of familiar faces on display. David Caruso, Ted Levine, Gary Sinise, Ray Sharkey (see above), Ving Rhames, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Julia Roberts, Mike Madsen, and Vincent Gallo all show their various mugs and balanced with Farina’s able cohorts, it’s one of the best ensembles in the decade.

Fans of LA Confidential should be mighty pleased.

Story Arcs of Record: The burgeoning crime syndicate of Ray Luca. The struggles of the MCU with their quarry amidst a spate of other crimes. The ruination of marriages aplenty due to infidelity. A nuclear explosion. Seriously.

Acting: Dennis Farina and Anthony Denison are at the top of their game here, both showing nuance and restraint in a genre mostly devoid of both. They anchor the series, though the supporting cast (especially Bill Smitrovich, a character actor you’ll know if you see him) all pull their weight.

Michael Madsen ponders if it’s this performance that will earn him a starring role in Trouble Bound.

Craftsmanship: A lot of familiar names cut their directorial teeth on Crime Story. People like Abel Ferrara. Yep, the Bad Lieutenant guy once directed Dennis Farina’s mustache around town. The shows are done with a proper mix of nostalgia and respect and while they have showed the signs of age (and the DVD transfer is terrible), there’s no lack of goodness. This is a really solid little show, not something we’re given every day. The fact it’s based on real stuff and sticks close to reality (for the most part) only spices the mix.

Entertainment Value: I got tired of the show’s theme song after about three episodes, but that’s what chapter skip is for on a DVD. The Buffy opening credits are equally annoying and they get the heave-ho every time too. Aside from that minor flaw, this show’s a great bit of hard boiled entertainment. The cast is great. The directing is solid and lets the talent do their thing. The subject matter’s uniformly terrific. There’s not a whole lot not to like about Crime Story as a show.

"Yes, Mr. Levine we’ll make this short and sweet. We’re from Jergens and we’d like to know if you’ll be willing to participate in our It Rubs The Lotion On Its Skin ad campaign."

Special Features: Dick. Shaftola. In addition to having less special features than Margaret Whitton, the transfer is also a violently ugly bit of fullscreen hideousness. Such is life, I guess. Here’s the tally:


Overall: 7.5 out of 10

The Office, Season One (Order it from Amazon!)

 There are way too many television shows, films, and comedians touted as brilliant or "The Best Since ________" and more often than not it’s a crock of loose ass. For example, because I was bowled over by Mitch Hedberg’s terrific Mitch All Over CD I went out and bought some other comedians I’d never heard. Error. Now my car CD player has the stink of Dave Atell living in it. Crap Reynolds. I can’t even afford Nicol Williamson to come exorcise the thing, let alone Max Von Sydow. The Office was another product that had been pimped as the next great thing, a This is Spinal Tap for the cubicle crowd. When I found out it might actually be worth a damn I picked up a copy for myself.

Gabriel was tolerant so he never complained when Ronnie would get romantically involved with Mr. Bill in the employee’s lounge even though it was against policy for coworkers to taste each other.

The show focuses on the fictitious company of Wernham Hogg (no relation to "Boss") and is shown through the same documentary lens that the Christopher Guest classics are. It’s a glimpse into a mundane little world that is treated like much more than it actually is by the inhabitants. David Brent (star and co-creator Ricky Gervais) rules his office with a zinc fist, dishing out little morsels of sexism, elitism, and other isms with asp-like precision. His employees either loathe him, kiss up to him, or do their best to avoid him. In his mind, he’s a God. In his mind, his salesman Chris Finch is the best thing ever. In his mind, their office trivia competitions are like the Olympics. The fun of the show is watching just how stupid he is, how lost he is, and how everyone around him is affected by both and their own bullshit.

The show is really sly for most of this first season. There’s not a lot of gutbusting moments, although an episode where an instructor comes in to help the crew leads to some great bits. It’s just a whole bunch of little things: The glances that Brent steals to the cameraman after a sexist comment or something he obviously is only saying because a camera is running. When they choose to cut away or when they choose to linger. The minutia of office life, like the importance of a stapler or the heinous birthday parties and office speeches we’ve all had to endure. This is not Office Space, mind you. This is something different and definitely affected by its British origins. It’s really sneaky humor that doesn’t exactly seem priceless or classic until you remember how crappy most of television comedy is.

Story Arcs of Record: Gareth Keenan (The Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Mackenzie Cook) and his overvalued Army experience as well as his position three inches up his boss’s colon. The impending dissolution of their office. Brent’s jeopardy of losing his job for lack of results. The impossible romance between Martin Freeman’s Tim and Lucy Davis’ Dawn characters.

Both found Suzie attractive in an Anna Kournikova meets Ace Frehley way and planned to make her their combined conquest of the night even though she knew neither how to hit a tennis ball nor how to play the solo from Love Gun.

Acting: Unless you hate British accents, there’s very little to complain about here. The actors all handle the material with aplomb, and though a lot of it seems improvisational, it’s not. Personally, I think it’s probably just as difficult to stick to a script in this style of comedy. Ricky Gervais was not an actor before this show, and it serves him well. He doesn’t have some of the actorly traits that’d make him seem out of place and since it’s his material he dives into it with both feet. He gets the most meaty dialogue and is the butt of a lot of the jokes and he handles it well. The surprise to me was Martin Freeman. He’s kind of the only really centered person on the show and even he’s a bit askew. Everyone’s good though, and I personally appreciate that they didn’t fill the cast with perfectly bodied people. Even the female lead is attractive but not a wisp of straw. That pleases me.

Craftsmanship: This thing is done on a shoestring, so the technical delivery is strictly documentary quality. There’s nothing in the way of eye candy but who needs it anyway? I like the music fine and the opening credits are surprisingly serious and kind of important looking. It’s put together fine, but by the nature of the format it’ll never compare to a big budget show.

Entertainment Value: If you like the humor of the show you’ll be pissed off when you discover that it’s over way too quick. The second disc is just special features, so it’s a one-disc affair. If you aren’t into the humor (it took me two or three episodes to decide for myself), it’s probably a bit excruciating.

Carl felt Yvette’s incendiary gaze upon him but was unable to stop daydreaming about his days as a professional sleigh critic.

Special Features: There’s a handful of fun little nuggets, including a really fun little document packaged in the box that’s meant to look like one of those crappy office newsletters (I was the editor of Shore-Varrone’s when I worked in ad sales). There’s a decent documentary that actually shows me that I like co-creator Stephen Merchant’s humor and style more than that of Ricky Gervais. There’s some deleted scenes, all of which are quite good. Aside from that, it’s a lean but effective little set. Here’s the tally:

Exclusive documentary, "How I Made The Office"
Deleted scenes
Wernham Hogg News
Slough slang glossery
Wernham Hogg personnel file

Overall: 7.6 out of 10


Best Show – The Shield, Season Two
Best Acting – The Shield, Season Two
Most Bang For Your Buck – Buffy, Season Five
Coolest Show – Crime Story, Season One
Best Packaging – Firefly, The Complete Series
Most re-watchable – The Office, Series One

Individual Awards & Jabs

Best Actor – Michael Chiklis – The Shield, Season Two
Best Actress -Sarah Michelle Gellar – Buffy, Season Five
Best Supporting Actor – James Marsters – Buffy, Season Five
Best Supporting Actress – Juliana Margulies – E.R., Season One